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Claiming Our Core Identity
as the Beloved of God

Rev. Paul V. Redmond
Professor Emeritus
Mount St. Mary's University

(03-01-09) Earlier this year we celebrated the baptismal day of the young man from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus took his place in a line with sinners waiting at the riverside to be baptized by the fire-brand preacher, John. John tried to dissuade him from being baptized, but Jesus replied "Leave it like this for the time being. It is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that righteousness demands." (Matt 3:14-15) Jesus chose the way of humility without any fanfare on this, his inauguration day. A voice, the voice of Abba, his heavenly Father, affirmed him: "This is my, the Beloved; my favor rests with him. (Matt 3:17). The way that Jesus chose, as he now began to teach about his Father's kingdom, was a way of hiddenness, powerlessness, and littleness.

The core identity of Jesus was brought out in those words: "You are my Beloved Son on whom my favor rests." His core identity: "You are my Beloved." The temptations that Jesus mysteriously experiences in the desert urge him to move away from his core identity- his spiritual center. In a mysterious way he was tempted to believe that he was someone else:

The Tempter speaks: "Jesus, man, you've got the power to tell this stone to become bread." Jesus responds: "I do not seek food apart from the Lord. My food is to do the will of him who sent me. One does not live on bread alone."

And again, the Adversary speaks: "Jesus, aren't you here to proclaim a kingdom? Well, man, get a move on! Worship me and I'll give you all the kingdoms of this world." Again Jesus quotes the Book

of Deuteronomy, one of his favorite books of the Hebrew Scripture. "Only my Father has dominion over the world. He alone is master and Lord. You shall worship the Lord your God, and him alone shall you serve."

And still again, Satan speaks: "Throw yourself down from the high point of the temple, for the Lord will protect you. His angels will support you. People will really follow you even without campaign donations and an Internet deluge." And Jesus replied: "I won't protect myself with a miracle. You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test."

Jesus was tempted to move away from his genuine, unique self, his core identity as the "Beloved of God."

Our core identity, friends, the unique self of each and every one of us and of every human is as the "beloved of God." All too frequently we are tempted to move away from ourselves as centered in the God who is lavishly loving us., non-stop. Most of the time, we find ourselves, if we even bother to focus on this matter, as simply slouching toward our basic identity as "beloved by God".

Lent helps us to cut down our careless "slouching" toward our fundamental identity. The Church gives us this gift of Lent that we may get a "move-on" in reclaiming our identity. In this beautiful season we are invited to consider the need that each of us as "beloved sinners" has to respond to the call of Jesus to change our lifestyle. Today, as we well realize, many are faced with painful lifestyle choices to change their lives as the economic crisis gets worse and unemployment escalates.

The change in lifestyle that Jesus asks us to undertake is far deeper change. It is really a conversion: a "turning from " and a "turning to"--a "turning away" from whatever blocks the full growth of our accepting the Father's love for us through Jesus and a "turning toward and surrendering to his love for us. These two turnings a "turning from" and a "turning to" demand an ongoing, lifelong conversion.

In responding to this call, in meeting this challenge to conversion we find ourselves present between two simultaneous forces: the Holy Spirit who empowers us to choose what is of God, and Satan, he Adversary who pulls us in the opposite direction.

In this joyful season of Lent we are asked to listen more keenly to Jesus, our Brother and our Lord-to "follow him more nearly and love him more dearly." This is the time to "get the barnacles off our Christian bottoms" and "get a move on."

There is a deep wisdom in the various disciplines that the Church offers us in Lent. There remains a wisdom behind these disciplines and it is this. The good things of God which you and I enjoy in this life may, at times, hide us, from our unique true selves. The breathaking beauty of a single rose, the spellbinding beauty of a superb piece of music---Schubert or Verdi - the captivating voices of our favorite soloists. . . the captivating beauty of a human body in nature or in art-the beauty of inexpressible love in an wrinkled, aged face-the speechless joy in the infant all in our arms , a soaring conversation with a friend in which we find ourselves searching for the truth and especially for beauty--- all these "good things from God" focus me at times on the gift rather than on the Giver. Sometimes I forget my genuine self and put to one side the reality of God himself. When I do that I realize how easy it is to take myself away from having the Lord Jesus as central in my life. I become aware that I am not as free as I would like to be. In no way does that mean that you and I should avoid these beautiful seductions. All of them are God's grace-filled gifts. It does mean that you and I keep them in focus.

Eamon Duffy, an historian of world-wide fame, writes:

"The beauty of the world, music, food, art, money, and sex are not bad. (They are good) They have an extraordinary power to tame us and trap us. Their power to trap us, to make us settle down when it is our business as disciples of Jesus to be travelers, comes from their goodness."

Thank God for Lent-to help you and me admit to ourselves that it is not easy simply to love things and leave them.. .. to realize this truth ever more deeply, and to put things in focus. In converting our lives certain disciplines may help us, not only in Lent, but in other times as well.

Fasting and abstaining---but please, friends, not in excess. Please do not cut out candy, or a meal a day, or a bottle of beer, or a movie on TV, or heading for a boy's or girl's "night out", if you're going to be "hell on wheels to live with." May the motive of our fasting make us one with the poor. Ask for the grace of "meaningful prayer", --not simply saying familiar prayers, but for "praying." may your focus on be on quality, not quantity. (Do not try to rush the rosary in before you go to bed. You may want to try an occasional "Scriptural Rosary"-the Scriptural Rosary - in which you pray a particular line from scripture before the Hail Mary.)

When you pray, consider allowing yourself occasional moments of wordless silence-"wordless silent prayer"---if you can possibly find a place at home -a "desert space within your life"-a space away from the most used room in the house, a space free of "drum practice", "guitar solos", or "competing TV sounds. Good luck! You may find the Sacrament Reconciliation to be a positive experience in adjusting the priorities in your life. Our thoughtfully praying a few verses from Scripture each day may well become a habit that can change some aspects of the way we live.

We pray: Father, help us not to linger unduly with whatever we find comfortable, homey and familiar. May we question our longing to stay-our longing to hold onto whatever will not stay. Help us to convert our lives to live more fully who we truly are-Your "beloved".

One fine day may we experience the fulfillment of our eternal life -our life in You, Your Son, and Your Spirit - a life begun in our baptism by Your embracing us as Your beloved.

Read other homilies by Father Paul